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What does a Probation Officer do?

Probation officers supervise criminal offenders placed on probation. Probation may be imposed as an alternative to incarceration or as an extension of prison time, and often includes rehabilitation, training or community service.

Probation officer: the job description

Probation officers meet regularly with offenders and their families, monitoring their behavior and progress through electronic monitoring devices and counseling. According to the Department of Labor, you may handle twenty to one hundred cases at a time, depending on agency jurisdiction and offender counseling needs. The following are a few common responsibilities for this profession:
  • Counseling offenders and evaluating their progress
  • Monitoring offenders' activities through electronic devices such as ankle bracelets and drug screening
  • Arranging rehabilitation programs or job training for offenders
  • Conducting pre-sentence investigations to gather trial evidence, determine eligibility for probation and set bail; interviews with family members, coworkers and victims can influence probation recommendations, as can criminal background.
  • Testifying in court and attending hearings on sentencing and rehabilitation
You may also specialize in a particular type of offense or offender, choosing to work with substance abuse cases, juveniles or domestic and divorce cases. You may also work with psychiatrists and social workers to evaluate offenders and manage probation programs. Many probation officers work in concert with community organizations such as churches and neighborhood groups.

Training for a career in probation

A career in this field generally begins with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, social work or psychology. In addition, the federal government and most states require a training program and a certification test. Training programs are offered through corrections agencies or professional associations such as the American Probation and Parole Association. Probation officer training programs cover applied case management skills as well as computer literacy, counseling and writing skills. On-the-job training may follow for up to a year before you can qualify for a full-time position.

You might also consider advancing into management roles, boosting your income and job responsibility. A master's degree in criminal justice or social work (MSW) can accelerate promotions, which are awarded on the basis of professional credentials, work experience and performance.

Probation officer careers

Probation officers can expect "excellent" job opportunities, reports the Department of Labor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists should grow 19 percent. Growing emphasis on rehabilitation is shifting the emphasis from prison time to probation, fueling demand for probation officers.

The majority of these professionals work in probation departments of state or county courts or the probation office of the U.S. District Court, specializing in juvenile, adult or family cases. The Department of Labor reports that nearly 97 percent of probation officers are employed by state and local government. California is the highest-paying state for probation officers.

Probation officers are playing an increasingly important role in criminal corrections. Prepare for your career as a probation officer with a criminal justice degree and professional training.

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